The Suspenseful Puppeteer: The Alfred Hitchcock Appreciation Thread

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For my Film Theory Final, I was asked to take a director of my choosing...any director at all...and write a paper utilizing a thesis of my own.

The thesis I chose was a matter of influence on the medium itself.

And the filmmaker I chose was Sir Alfred Hitchcock:

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The Suspenseful Puppeteer
A Peek into the Morbid Mind and Macabre Mastery of Alfred J. Hitchcock

Hitchcock.jpg


by
Chas Blankenship​

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Very few filmmakers can be properly identified as ‘influential,’ and even less are regarded to have a specific personal style; an approach to storytelling that is inherently theirs and theirs alone.

One such visionary, however, might be the most influential of all. The Maestro of Intrigue…the Savant of the Thriller…the Master of Suspense himself; Sir Alfred Hitchcock. But just how influential is his work…and, more importantly…why is he influential?

Born in London’s East End in the neighborhood of Leytonstone on August 13th 1899, Alfred Joseph Hitchcock grew up with an eye already keen on the macabre. He ‘wrote short fiction, became terrified of jails and the police, was deeply bonded to his mother and was intrigued by railway timetables for far off destinations.’ By the age of 21, he sought work in advertising and eventually found himself enthralled with the business of motion pictures. Alfred’s approach to design led him to Famous Players Lasky where he created title cards and ended up becoming an on-set assistant. Ironically, he wasn’t interested in the art of directing, as the studio had forced it upon him following the director of a project being fired. It was in this atmosphere that Hitchcock met Alma Reville and the two fell in love. Married in 1926, Alfred and Alma began a union both on personal and professional terms as Alma devotedly assisted her husband with the scripting and editing of his films.

Prior to his death in 1980, Alfred Hitchcock had completed an incredible 57 feature films…from 1927’s “The Lodger” to “Frenzy” in 1972…without winning a single Academy Award. But if history has taught us anything in regards to the Oscars, it’s that they never outweigh the gravitas of a filmmaker’s skill and talent. The sheer amount of respect, inspiration, recognition and influence Alfred Hitchcock has simultaneously garnished and endowed continues to grow even today. Despite other directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese achieving their own levels of influence, Hitchcock remains in a league entirely of his own making…at a unique standard that has been frequently imitated but never surpassed.

His films are so enthralling, so captivating and the first and perhaps best recognizable attempt at observing film as a medium of the utmost potential; potential of storytelling, visualizing and ultimately of manipulation. Like a well-mannered conductor at the head of an orchestra, Alfred could weave a lyrical melody within his films that would evoke or provoke a reaction from his audience precisely when he meant to. Paired with a love of Germanic Expressionism and a rather morbid sense of humor, Hitchcock relished in his subjective use of the camera…his ability to paint with light and shadow, his coercing of the frame for dramatic effect, his building tension through elongated almost uncompromising editing and his crafting interestingly developed characters through a combination of stunningly clever and biting dialog and the marvelous performances of his actors.

Hitchcock’s legacy as an authority on the thriller format has now come full circle with the man’s directing style transcending the man himself. In a development shared only with Stanley Kubrick and David Cronenberg, Alfred’s own name has a become a prominent term in the industry…if a film is attempting to be undeniably ‘Hitchcockian,’ everyone knows the intended aesthetic.

One can obviously gain a deep admiration for Hitchcock’s visual flourishes and it’s clear that, having learned from and adapted European Cinema, he brought to the United States a highly stylized approach to camerawork the likes of which were captivatingly revolutionary for their time. Combined with a finely tuned affinity for dramatic editing, the Suspenseful Puppeteer effectively pulled the strings on his audiences with delicate yet deliberate tact and malaise.

A prime example is the notorious ‘Shower Scene’ in 1960’s “Psycho,” in which Janet Leigh is shockingly butchered by the “Mother” of Norman Bates…masterfully staged in the confines of a seemingly ordinary bathroom, the murder is fully realized through stark cinematography that depicts the killer as a silhouette of black death…the camera, used to its fullest extent, reveals the essentials…Leigh’s gaping mouth, shadows dancing across the shower curtain, blood winding down the drain. There are even shots that feature the knife being brought down in a stabbing motion across Leigh’s body rather than actually stabbing INTO her, which act as a great visual trick that implies the gesture through elliptical means instead of resorting to actual on-screen violence that at the time would’ve been too ghastly to portray. But as you can see, gore is not a necessity for evoking bouts of tension and terror in an audience. The edit is, for 1960, incredibly visceral as our eye is barraged by the images of this sequence in rapid succession with the sheer terror of the proceedings heightened by the infamously iconic ‘shrieking strings’ cue by composer Bernard Hermann.

It was this film and, in particular this very scene, that created the germ of what would eventually come to be known as the ‘Slasher’ film. The shocking concept of killing the lead before the film is even resolved also became a constant staple of thrilling drama as a means of throwing the audience into complete limbo (if an audience is following a main character that gets killed, that initial attachment is severed…leaving the audience to fend for itself in a strange and potentially threatening environment).

Alfred’s play with shadow and light also became iconic in and of itself, creating the visual capability of implying danger and intrigue that in turn left the threat up to a viewer’s own imagination rather than naively tossing the moment aside by flat out revealing everything. This use of shadow play is perfectly displayed in the beautifully conceived Main Titles of 1942’s “Saboteur.”

This technique also parlayed into the concept of throwing an audience off balance with a shot or frame meant to remain visually undefined. For instance, the opening shot of 1958’s “Vertigo” is a horizontal bar and nothing more. Our eye is given no more information and we are left in bewildered awkwardness pondering what it is we’re seeing…until it’s revealed to be the final rung on a fire escape ladder. Rather than conform to the ever-convoluted establishing shot of a location or the informative master, Alfred chose to consistently mess with the visual paradigm…always keeping his audience on edge and off kilter.

Frequently a perceptible filmmaker, Hitchcock also became a well-versed progenitor in the fields of both optical and auditory advancements. His 1929 “Blackmail” was the first British sound feature and 1948’s “Rope” was an incredibly ambitious experiment in strategic choreography of actors, lighting and sets as the film was shot in full 11-minute masters that were delicately edited to create the apparently seamless visage of a single, fluid camera take. But perhaps Alfred is most fondly remembered for his encompassing and large-scale sequences…as the film well known filmmaker to utilize the practice of storyboarding. For the dramatic attack sequences in 1963’s “The Birds,” Hitchcock conceived and illustrated his own detailed sketches…using them to plot out his camera set-ups, actor’s positions in conjunction with the frame and the arduous task of detailing the work that had to be done with optical effects that would showcase the hordes of winged pests antagonizing ‘Tippi’ Hedren. Ultimately, “The Birds” featured 370 trick shots that required nearly three years of preparation devoted to the film’s technical complexity. This dynamic approach would eventually give birth to pre-visualization; a practice that effects-heavy pictures today find absolutely essential during the pre-production process. The concept of visually describing complex shots and sequences through artwork was adopted by the industry at large and became forever permeated in pre-production; all thanks to the emulous eye of Hitchcock.

Beyond his own fascinations with technical analysis and experimentation, Hitchcock’s true claiming of ‘Master’ resides in his expert fusion of dense philosophical reflection with brilliantly pitched, often scathing, social observation. Intrigued by humanities’ dark underbelly, Alfred was unafraid of taking us into those obscure corners of the mind where evil resides…plagued by corruption, moral ambiguity, perversion, ruthlessness, eroticism, decadence, insanity and every other potentially unsavory facet of mankind.

Rather than place this evil in some far off providence, he insisted on showcasing the truth…that evil is in all of us, all around us…penetrating us and motivating is ever so subtly; ever so maliciously. Hitchcock took his films as an opportunity to look very hard at what compels and drives one to crime, madness and murder. Cases of losing grip on sanity, mistaken identity, sexual immorality, psychological abuse and the ultimately damning conclusion…that at its core, humanity is rarely ever noble or good-natured. Told through Alfred’s own penchant for morbid curiosity and dry farcical humor, his filmography is an appealing peak behind the façade of human benevolence at what truly horrific proposals and thoughts reside in the unconscious mind. Examples of these obviously include the bulk of Hitchcock’s films but prominent standouts include 1945’s “Spellbound,” 1954’s “Rear Window,” 1959’s “North by Northwest” and 1972’s “Frenzy.”

Profoundly visual in his utilization of the camera, the lighting, the costumes and the color Hitchcock is a filmmaker for the ages with his remarkable talent of crafting incredible form and feeling in his frame compositions…truly his photography remains the most primal and powerful as it continues, to this day, to be imitated by many directors.

Brian DePalma is known for admittedly building his entire career on the foundations of ‘Hitchcockian’ design with “Scarface” and “The Black Dahlia.” “Disturbia” is a modern day “Rear Window.” Ridley Scott was certainly inspired when creating the tense, spine-tingling and suspenseful atmosphere of “Alien” and Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” and John Carpenter’s “Halloween” are fitting contemporary homage’s to “Vertigo” and “Psycho” respectively. Scorsese himself has even commented on his appreciation of “Vertigo” as that of a ‘whirlpool of obsession…a very beautiful, comfortable, almost nightmarish obsession.’

Yes…very few filmmaker’s can be properly identified as ‘influential’ and even less are regarded to have a specific personal style; an approach to storytelling that is inherently theirs and theirs alone.
Why is Hitchcock so influential?

Because nearly 30 years have gone by since Alfred’s passing…and not one single dramatic motion picture has been or could be made without using at least one technique initiated by him. Literally, it seems quite impossible.

Without the ground broken by Hitchcock, filmmaking itself as a visual medium would lose its potency and power a thousand fold…an entire generation of filmmakers would not have access to the countless techniques and innovations he sought to use as storytelling devices; techniques and innovations that he alone brought to the table or created himself.

Truly…film as we know it today would not exist without Alfred Hitchcock.
A director actually worthy of being labeled a Pioneer…THAT is not only what makes him influential…but universal and everlasting.

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[YT]cU00xLcAxpg[/YT]​

This thread is for any fellow admirers of Alfred's material and craft...enjoy!
 
Ah, excellent. I did an English paper on Hitchcock in my freshman year last year. Loved writing it.

Vertigo is his masterpiece but it's not a personal favorite of mine. Rear Window is, and Rope is his most underrated, while Topaz being my least favorite. I still have numerous Hitch films to see though. I've seen many of them already.
 
Fwiw, I've seen the following Hitchcock films,

Frenzy (1972)

Torn Curtain (1966)
Marnie (1964)
The Birds (1963)

Psycho (1960)
North by Northwest (1959)
Vertigo (1958)

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
The Trouble with Harry (1955)
To Catch a Thief (1955)

Rear Window (1954)

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Rope (1948)

Notorious (1946)

Spellbound (1945)

Lifeboat (1944)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Saboteur (1942)
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
Rebecca (1940)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Sabotage (1936)
The 39 Steps (1935)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

And, with the exception of Torn Curtain, I can pretty much recommend that all the rest are at least interesting viewing. I really need to see Suspicion and The Wrong Man one of these days. Probably Topaz and Family Plot too, even with their lacking reputations.

One of the things I'll note that while Hitchcock is by no means a "feminist" director, women occupy a far stronger role in his canon than for most other directors. Beyond the love interest, they were often the male lead's best friend or confidant. Thelma Ritter in Rear Window and Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo, for example. Roger Thornhill hangs out with his mother. I'm having trouble thinking of a male sidekick for that matter. The original Man Who Knew Too Much has the wife being more capable than the husband, and you suspect that he's going to the lengths he's going to as part of a need to compensate.
Hitchcock still lets the wife shoot the villain dead at the end of the film though.

Beyond the secondary female characters, Hitchcock used the female p.o.v. strongly in Sabotage, Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, Suspicion, Notorious, Psycho, and Marnie. The Lodger too, for that matter.
 
I myself did a paper on Hitchcock a zillion years ago in college. Always loved his films, my personal favorites are Rebecca, Suspicion, Rope, Rear Window and North by Northwest.
 
The only two I've seen are Rear Window and Strangers on a Train, and I absolutely loved them both.
 
For my Film Theory Final, I was asked to take a director of my choosing...any director at all...and write a paper utilizing a thesis of my own.

The thesis I chose was a matter of influence on the medium itself.

And the filmmaker I chose was Sir Alfred Hitchcock:

-------------------------



[YT]cU00xLcAxpg[/YT]​

This thread is for any fellow admirers of Alfred's material and craft...enjoy!

Brilliant paper. Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director, the very reason why I'm interested in the field of Academic Film Studies and Film Theory. Thanks to Hitchcock, cinema continued to be a compelling artistic medium, even after the silent era ended, he found the right balance between sound and silence. He revived Expressionistic film techniques, Soviet Formalist and Montage theory of Sergei Eisenstein, meticulous attention to detail in Mise-en-scene. He introduced Salvador Dali and Sigmund Freud's ideas of Psychoanalysis, with Spellbound.
 
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These are the ones I've seen.

1966 Torn Curtain - An alright film, Julie Andrews sullies her perfect image intentionally in doing this movie by having a morning after scene while still in bed with Paul Newman.

1964 Marnie - This was good I suppose so. Sean Connery is in this, so is Tippi Hedren.

1963 The Birds - UB Iwerks did the visual effects for this film winning an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, using xerox he devised over at Disney. Tippi Hedren is in this, who in real life is mother to actor Melanie Griffith.

1960 Psycho - A classic thriller. The beautiful Janet Leigh is in this.

1959 North by Northwest - Well done filmmaking

1958 Vertigo - Hitchcock's technical and filmmaking achievement. Kim Novak is beautiful in this.

1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much - this was kind of boring, introduced the world to the song Que Sera Sera sung by Doris Day, America's sweetheart. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZbKHDPPrrc

1955 To Catch a Thief - Hitchcock's two favorite leads in one movie, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

1954 Rear Window - A classic, I love this film, the whole film takes place in Jeff's apartment and what we see outside of his apartment. Grace Kelly isn't hard on the eyes. ;)

1954 Dial M for Murder - Filmed in 3D starring Grace Kelly

1948 Rope - An attempt to give the audience the continuous shot through out the film with clever transitions. To give the impression of a live stage play.

1946 Notorious - good film with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Bergman's daughter is Isabella Rossellini.

1943 Shadow of a Doubt - Well made black and white movie.

1940 Rebecca - Hitchcock's first film made in the United States, also won Best Picture and best Black and White Cinematography

1938 The Lady Vanishes - It was a big hit in the States, the film got Hitchcock attention to those in Hollywood.

1935 The 39 Steps - I like it!

1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much - early work by Hitchcock, a little rough around the edges. Peter Lorre is in it.
 
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I've only seen Rear Window and Vertigo but boy was I impressed. Rear Window was a modern masterpiece of suspense. Absolutely loved it. Vertigo was fantastic as well (the ending was all too sudden for my tastes though).
 
When you see more of Hitchcock's films look for his cameo in all of them. He was always trying to push sexuality in his film in opposition to the Hays Office. As was in kissing scenes you could only have characters kiss for only a few seconds but he'd sustain the kissing scenes with broken up kisses with long embraces as was in Rear Window. As pushing things with Liza in the film staying the night as well. ;)

Most of the films he has beautiful blondes in them, as he loved blondes! Grace Kelly, and Kim Novak and Janet Leigh are his most beautiful in my opinion. His favorite was Grace, who later on became the Princess of Monaco, where she shot the film To Catch a Thief. There's a scene in that film where she is driving recklessly on a canyon road, and the irony is later on in her life she died on that same road in a car crash.
 
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Hitchcock's newly restored silent film, The Ring will be live streamed on July 13th.

Hitchcock’s The Ring streams live online

Sam Wigley
Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Beautifully evoking London in the 1920s, Alfred Hitchcock’s boxing melodrama The Ring will be an early highlight in the BFI’s summer-long The Genius of Hitchcock project when it screens at Hackney Empire on 13 July. Now thanks to an on-demand digital arts service called The Space, online viewers across the UK will be able to share the experience of seeing one of the director’s finest early films newly restored.


The result of a collaboration between Arts Council England and the BBC, The Space provides an online window onto the wealth of cultural experiences being offered this summer as part of the London 2012 Festival. Available free via the internet, smartphones and connected TV, the initiative will bring the best of a summer of arts directly to people’s homes and handsets.

The story of two boxers whose love rivalry plays out between the ropes, The Ring will be streamed live during the event at Hackney Empire, which includes the premiere performance of a new jazz score for the film by Soweto Kinch.

ring1927dazedboxer.jpg


“The title refers to many ‘rings’,” claims Bryony Dixon, Curator of Silent Film at the BFI. “The boxing ring in which the story is set, the wedding ring which unites up-and-coming contender Jack ‘One Round’ Sander and his girlfriend Mabel, and the arm bracelet given to Mabel by Jack’s rival Bob which symbolises another ‘ring’, the love triangle between the three characters.”

An early precursor to boxing dramas such as Body and Soul (1947) and Raging Bull (1980), The Ring is also fascinating viewing for Hitchcock fans, who will recognise many of the film’s themes and stylistic flourishes as typically Hitchcockian. Dixon continues, “The Ring was Hitchcock’s only original screenplay, giving him complete control over its pacing and visual metaphor. It contains more Hitchcockian moments than almost any other of his films.”

“We are very excited that the Arts Council has supported the BFI with an award to give everyone in the UK a chance to enjoy a fantastic screening of Hitchcock’s The Ring,” says Heather Stewart, the BFI’s Cultural Director. “Streaming the live event on The Space is an exciting new initiative, allowing us to connect we hope with a wide range of audiences interested in the arts, who otherwise may not easily have come to a screening of this restored Hitchcock silent film.”

In this virtual space, Hitchcock will be rubbing shoulders with everyone from Shakespeare to Berlioz, with a full-length performance of King Lear by the Belarus Free Theatre and a livestream from the Royal Opera House of David McVicar’s innovative production of Berlioz’s Les Troyens among the pick of this week’s offerings. Says Dan Phelan from the Arts Council, “The Space is becoming this summer’s go-to online destination to enjoy, discover and catch up on the UK’s incredibly rich and vibrant arts and culture scene and to take part in major events such as the BFI’s Genius of Hitchcock season.”

www.thespace.org
http://www.bfi.org.uk/news/hitchcocks-ring-streams-live-online
 
I love Hitchcock. Wrote a paper on him in high school, and I really learned a lot. I would say Vertigo is his masterpiece, but my personal favorite of his films is Psycho, just because of how different it is from many of his other movies. It's annual Halloween viewing in my house.
 
1964 Marnie - This was good I suppose so. Sean Connery is in this, so is Tippi Hedren.

1963 The Birds - UB Iwerks did the visual effects for this film winning an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, using xerox he devised over at Disney. Tippi Hedren is in this, who in real life is mother to actor Melanie Griffith.

1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much - this was kind of boring, introduced the world to the song Que Sera Sera sung by Doris Day, America's sweetheart. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZbKHDPPrrc

1955 To Catch a Thief - Hitchcock's two favorite leads in one movie, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly

1940 Rebecca - Hitchcock's first film made in the United States, also won Best Picture and best Black and White Cinematography

1938 The Lady Vanishes - It was a big hit in the States, the film got Hitchcock attention to those in Hollywood.

1935 The 39 Steps - I like it!

I need to watch these ones, seen all the other ones you mentioned except Torn Curtain.
 
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For me, he is one of the best directors ever. My favorite Hitchcock film is "Dial M for Murder".I think that Anthony Hopkins is a perfect choice to play him.
 
Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder coming to 3D Blu-Ray in October

b79789b1bccbb48a615b8dc.jpg


Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, his only film shot in 3D and made during the first wave of 3D motion pictures in the 1950's, is finally coming to your home theater in Blu-Ray 3D on October 9th, 2012.

The fad of 3D was on the wane by the time Dial M for Murder was to be released in 1954 and as the legend goes it was decided to release it in 2D instead and it never had a large scale commercial 3D release. With only occasional special showings through the years, the 3D version has remain largely unseen by the general public and many of Hitchcock's fans.

This was also the first of Grace Kelly's three films with Hitchcock, It was followed by her best work with him in Rear Window and a year later, the comedic suspense thriller To Catch a Thief. While filming To Catch a Thief she met her future husband, Prince Rainier of Monaco, on location in the French Rivera.

Also in the cast are Ray Milland as Grace Kelly's murderous husband and Robert Cummings as her American lover. Future James Bond villain Anthony Dawson plays the blackmailed rogue forced into a murder plot and the "Veddy British" John Williams in his second of three Hitchcock films, plays the dogged police inspector who knows something is not quite right.

The Blu-Ray was made from a 4K scan of the original camera negatives, and a full restoration of the 3D effect of "two 'eyes,'" as Warner's calls it, as well as convergence fixes were made to ensure perfect 3D alignment. It is the first of Warner's "Classic 3D" films to be released on Blu-Ray. They hold the largest catalog of classic 3D movies from the 50's and this restoration opens the way for future release of the others.

Extras announced by Warner's in the Blu-Ray release is a documentary featurette Hitchcock and Dial M and 3D: A Brief History and the original 1954 theatrical trailer.

In addition to Dial M for Murder, Warner Home Video is also releasing that same day on Blu-Ray, Hitchcock's seminal classic Strangers on a Train. Both films will be an amazing addition to anyone's film library,
http://www.examiner.com/article/alfred-hitchcock-s-dial-m-for-murder-coming-to-3d-blu-ray-october
 

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